Comments and suggestions from our alumni
The comments and suggestions that appear below are responses obtained from the Department of Immunology Graduate Alumni Survey conducted in 2013 and published in this issue of IMMpress.
I had a great experience at the department, but some of the training needs to be pitched differently to match needed skills in the market, such as independent thought and bioinformatics.
Post-doctoral fellow | South Africa
I love the new department magazine, great job!!
Coordinator of a molecular tools platform and lecturer | Canada
If I had to do it again, I would not hesitate one second to enroll in this program.
Professor | Canada
Maintain the alumni network for students to be more informed about the job market.
Scientific Diligence Associate | Canada
A good scientific training develops skills that are applicable to a wide range of jobs. Being able to focus, think critically, interpret data, ask questions, challenge dogma, respond to questions, be creative, synthesize ideas, learn from failures, follow unexpected outcomes …these are all incredibly valuable life skills. Frankly, I wish I worked with more scientists in my day job!
National VP, Research | Canada
I think faculty are put into management positions, but have no training in how to manage people… In the end, the students should be getting an education and not acting as hard working, driven laborers. Committee meetings are intended to be there to protect the students, however if the committee is too afraid to give advice during the meeting and only to the student afterwards, this is not appropriate and in no way helpful to the student.
Research Associate (Assistant Professor; non-tenured) | USA
Increasingly large data sets are becoming important in addressing global trends in biological processes. Including and encouraging courses that equip students to deal compuationally with these data sets will give them an advantage going forward.
Assistant Professor | USA
Room for Improvement
The University of Toronto immunology program, in my view, is world class and has many strengths. I believe that the Easton talks and post-presentation luncheons were extremely valuable to take part in, and I hope they continue. In addition, I feel that the student presentations not only improve presentation skills, but while in attendance, students gain a broader understanding of immunology in areas of research that are beyond their own project and lab’s focus. Finally, the quality of research being carried out by the Department of Immunology faculty is incredible.
That being said, there is room for improvement.
Every student that enters the Masters or PhD program does so with different goals in mind. Some students are still exploring and do not have fully formed career goals. Others are more focused on using their PhDs as a launching point to enter medical and other professional schools. Some are determined to follow the traditional career path through graduate school, post-doctoral training, with the ultimate goal of becoming full professors. Finally, some hope to follow a career path to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. With all these differences, I feel that more could be done to identify the specific differences in students’ goals, and provide more support for students to help them reach their goals.
1. Replace one of the Immunology Tonight courses with a more career-oriented alternative: Networking, Grant Writing, Clinical Research including protocol writing and IRB approvals, Regulatory Compliance, and others. Although Immunology Tonight was an enjoyable social event, I thought that our time could be better spent on career specific courses. Since the focus of the course was to expose students to research in a field unrelated to their own, I feel that I did not gain anything new from the course that I did not already learn from attending student seminars and Easton talks.
2. Co-op option. For students that are hoping to stay in the Toronto area after graduation, as opposed to seeking post-doctoral experience, I feel that the University of Toronto should partner with local biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies to offer joint co-op programs. Such opportunities would provide valuable experience and afford networking opportunities to students. Companies both small and large would be very interested in “molding” the talent that is present in our program. GSK, Johnson & Johnson, Roche, Amgen, are just a few examples of large corporations in the GTA.
3. The University of Toronto already offers a joint MD/PhD program in immunology and I know of a few students that have taken that route. I think that other combined programs should also be considered. Programs with a focus on government policies, project management, hospital administration, clinical trial management, regulatory affairs, and others could all be considered. I think that a comprehensive review of existing University of Toronto certificates and degree programs should be undertaken to identify such related programs, and a mandatory workshop should be incorporated into the course curriculum. This workshop would assist students in identifying additional qualifications that could complement their PhD, geared towards their specific career goals.
The world is changing quickly and we all know that academic positions can be scarce, especially to students that hope to stay in the GTA (like myself) and be close to their families. I was advised by peers and faculty, that to become successful in academia, it is advisable to pursue a post-doctoral fellowship outside of the GTA (mainly the US). For me, pursuing an academic career seems nearly impossible and I rejected the idea of moving to the US to gain post-doctoral experience. I wish I could pursue a career there, but that just does not seem to be in the cards for me. I am currently enjoying success in the pharmaceutical industry, but I know that today’s GTA job market can be incredibly difficult to break through. I feel that for students like me, the above suggestions would have put me in a much better position to be successful outside of academia.
Department of Immunology Graduate | Canada